Nambucca Shire’s General Manager, Michael Coulter, did not mince his words:
“Our residents have been shafted by poor advice from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and will be paying for it for the next nine years.”
He was referring to the EPA’s recent retraction of the Mixed Waste Exemption, which now requires Nambucca, Bellingen and Coffs Harbour City Shires to collectively landfill about 12,000 tonnes per annum of mixed waste (red bin) compost.
This red bin compost was what the Biomass autoclave produced and was one of the factors giving the councils their gold star recycling status. It was sold for use on agricultural land.
Based on a scientific report, that Mr Coulter says has not been released to the councils, the EPA has declared contaminants in the products mean it is no longer acceptable.
“We have spent tens of millions of dollars on the Biomass autoclave and it gave us a waste diversion of 50 per cent, now that has dropped to four per cent overnight,” Mr Coulter said.
“We pay $230 per tonne for processing, which is $0.5 million per year and our contractual arrangement with Coffs City Council for this service runs to 2027.
“Our councils were encouraged to take up the Biomass technology and now the EPA has done a backflip. In terms of waste planning it is a financial disaster.”
He said the decision was made without consultation and only 24 hours notice to the councils.
We had a waste diversion of 50 per cent, now that has dropped to four per cent overnightGeneral Manager Michael Coulter
The EPA sees the situation differently.
In an email response to questions they said the decision was not sudden and was only taken after reviewing the comprehensive research undertaken along with specialist advice, including from an inter-agency committee.
“The EPA has taken a careful, coordinated and deliberate approach to prioritise environmental and community health while recognising the impact on landholders, waste management companies and the councils that use mixed waste organic material as part of their waste management programs,” the response said.
“The EPA is also developing a comprehensive support package to minimise potential immediate impacts, and help both councils and industry respond over the longer term. A key part of this is a 12-month waste levy exemption for the outputs from AWT (Alternative Waste Treatment) facilities, and targeted funding to cover the cost of sending AWT outputs to landfill in the short term.”
Nambucca Shire mayor Rhonda Hoban said it was her understanding 29 councils in NSW will be affected by the EPA’s action with Nambucca, Bellingen and Coffs Harbour the only rural/regional councils affected.
“Nambucca Shire Council is not a party to the Biomass contract. That is between Coffs Harbour and Biomass so Coffs Harbour City Council will negotiate with Biomass,” Cr Hoban said.
“Nambucca and Bellingen Shire Councils have a separate deed of agreement with Coffs Harbour Council so we will await Coffs Harbour City Council’s advice regarding the outcome of their negotiations.”
The Guardian News is waiting to hear back from both Coffs Harbour City Council and Biomass.
For more information about the reforms including a link to the report can be found on the EPA’s website: CLICK HERE.